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MingHuan Xu performs at a concert organised by the Chinese Fine Arts Society, part of The Five Elements Project, at the Logan Centre for the Arts at the University of Chicago in 2014. Photo: Chicago Tribune/TNS

US musician reunited with stolen 262-year-old violin

  • MingHuan Xu’s 1760 Gagliano was recovered undamaged, along with another violin made by Oliver Radke in 1994 and her son’s half-sized cello
  • The antique instrument was lent to Xu by a private sponsor 20 years ago

After a month-long disappearance, police have returned a stolen violin made in 1760 to a family of musicians who lost a 262-year-old violin, as well as two other valuable instruments, when their Chicago home was burgled in May.

MingHuan Xu, a professional violinist and director of the string programme at Roosevelt University, was preparing to perform at the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival in Washington on Tuesday when the Chicago Police Department called and asked her to come into the station to identify three instruments.

Xu immediately dropped out of her performance that night, booked a red-eye, and arrived in Chicago at 4am on Wednesday. She identified the three instruments “right away” as the three that were taken from her home a month earlier. The instruments were all undamaged and in good condition.

With no suspects in custody and the investigation still “open”, it remains unclear who was behind the burglary or how police acquired the instruments, though surveillance cameras from a neighbour’s garage did capture images of the suspect entering Xu’s home around 3.45am the morning of May 11.

Though a month has passed and Xu has taken precautions to secure her home, including installing security cameras, the family remains disturbed by the home invasion that took place as they slept.

“[The burglar] truly caused a lot of pain in our lives,” Xu said. “That’s something that’s going to take us a long while to heal as a family. But again, I’m grateful that the instruments are back.”

The antique violin, made by esteemed Italian violin maker Nicolo Gagliano, was lent to Xu by a private sponsor 20 years ago.


In addition to the 1760 violin, a second violin made by Oliver Radke in 1994 and Xu’s son’s half-size cello were taken in the burglary. Xu said that when her son came home Wednesday he “saw his cello and just hugged it”.

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As the last month progressed with no sign of any of the stolen instruments, Xu began to lose hope that she would be reunited with the 1760 Gagliano. She said she is relieved that she can continue her journey with the antique violin, which has both a professional and sentimental value to her.

“For the Gagliano which is almost 300 years old … to be able to continue its journey, it’s a miracle when you think about an instrument that has gone through so much and has lasted as long,” Xu said.

“I’m glad that I can pass on the torch, rather than [this violin] be lost forever under my hand, under my care. I’m just so, so happy that it’s back.”


Though the instrument was returned to Xu undamaged, it will spend the next couple of days in an instrument shop, or “instrument hospital”, for a check up and maintenance, she said.


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Pencils and a tea box: makeshift ‘violins’ help underprivileged music students during the pandemic

On June 28, the violin will make its first musical appearance in Chicago since it went missing at a concert at St James Cathedral as part of the Rush Hour Concerts series.


Xu plans to invite all of the detectives and officers who were instrumental in the violin’s recovery, as well as members of the music community that supported her in the violin’s absence.

Xu says “quite a few” instrument dealers offered her instruments when they learned of the burglary. She ultimately used a “beautiful instrument” lent to her by Darnton & Hersh Fine Violins.

Xu also looks ahead to the violin’s future, which she hopes will include another few centuries of care under a line of fellow musicians.


“This violin, it’s meant to pass on to many, many musicians after me,” she said.

“And, you know, to be able to carry on its voice I hope for many hundred years after.”